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Toronto’s Bonita Theatre on Gerrard East

16 Aug

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Undated sketch of the facade of the Bonita Theatre (from the Toronto Archives)

The theatre at 1035-1037 1/2 Gerrard Street East is one of the earliest theatres that opened in Toronto. In 1911, two houses on the south side of Gerrard Street East, a short distance west of Jones Avenue, were converted into a theatre. The dormer windows on the third floor remained, and on this floor and the one below it, there were likely residential apartments, which was common in that decade. The box office was in a central position, with entrances to the theatre on either side of it. The brick facades of the old houses were covered with stucco. The marquee was relatively small, extending only a short distance out over the sidewalk, although a larger canopy was constructed in the years ahead. I was unable to discover how many seats were in its auditorium when it first opened. It would likely have contained a small stage, as theatres in that era usually offered vaudeville alongside the silent movies. There was no balcony.

The web site @SilentToronto, written by Eric Veillette, tells about an incident concerning the theatre that occurred in 1931. At the time, the theatre was owned by Harry Lester, a prominent businessman in East Toronto. To increase attendance, he offered patron free silverware. Charges were laid and the case went to court, where the judge dismissed the case. As a result of this judgement, giving free items at theatres for promotional purposes became common. It was not long before theatres began giving away dinnerware, autographed photos of movie stars and even encyclopaedias.    

In the years ahead, the name of the theatre changed several times; it was closed in 1965 and reopened in 1966 as the Athenium and screened Greek films. Later, it became the Wellington. In 1933 it was renamed the Gerrard. The theatre was renovated in 1947 and a candy bar was installed. In the early 1950s, the seating capacity of the theatre was reported as 542 seats and that it was operated by the Allied Group.

In March 1955, an inspector saw a young boy stretched out over two seats. The inspector chatted with the lad and discovered that he was eleven years old, and that he had been unchallenged when he purchased his own ticket. The boy claimed that he did this quite often. The theatre’s owner was notified of the incident and was warned to enforce the age-restriction codes. On November 3, 1959 a fire broke out in the theatre during a matinee, when over 400 children in attendance. The fire was quickly extinguished and after the smoke had cleared and the theatre doors opened to dispel the worst of the odour, the children returned and the matinee continued.

In 1957, it was noted that the theatre’s matron was taking tickets at the door when she should have been on duty inside the auditorium. The inspector asserted that because the matron was not patrolling the aisles, the kids were noisy and unruly, and it was impossible to hear the sound track of the movie. When the inspector reprimanded the matron, he discovered that she spoke no English. As a result, the theatre received an official notification about its infraction of the codes. In 1959, the theatre was again cited for improper supervision, as eight children were sitting in the aisle.

In 1960, the theatre’s seating capacity was listed as 523. The following year, an inspector demanded that ticket sales at the theatre be halted as several kids were seated in a single seat. The various reports of the inspectors illustrate how closely theatre’s were inspected in earlier decades. I wonder if this remains true today. We now live in a society that is more permissive about what is shown on the screen, but bureaucracy remains a formidable foe.  

In 1968, the building was for sale at the listed price of $54,000, and another $21,000 for the business.

In the 1980s and 1990s it was called the Sri Lakshmi and screened films in the Tamil language. At various times, the theatre was closed, but it always seemed to reopen again. On July 12, 2011 the Bonita Theatre of old was revived and opened as an independent movie theatre, named the Projection Booth. It screened art films, as well as individually produced films and foreign movies. This was accomplished by the same people who renovated the Metro Theatre on Bloor Street West.

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     The theatre when it was employed for other commercial purposes.

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              The old Bonita in the 1960s when it showed Greek films.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

To view previous posts about other movie houses of Toronto—old and new

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/12/18/torontos-old-movie-theatrestayloronhistory-com/

To view links to Toronto’s Heritage Buildings

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/canadas-cultural-scenetorontos-architectural-heritage/ 

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It also relates anecdotes and stories from those who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

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                 To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

 

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